Palliative Space-Time: Expanding and Contracting Geographies of US Health Care

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Two important changes are happening in health care in the US. As hospitals close in high numbers, the geographies of health care services are changing. Also, the ageing of the population brings about new and complex care needs. These are not discrete trends, as ageing impacts the who, what, and where of care needs, and hospital closures remakes the geographies of where people overall access care. Developed out of research on the impacts of hospital restructuring on workers, patients, and communities, this paper aims to understand how health care financing, care needs for the ageing, and new geographies of health services are intertwined. To do so, I look back to 1980s policy changes to Medicare, the federal health insurance program for the elderly and disabled. In 1982, Congress made two important changes to Medicare. The program began covering hospice services, constituting an expansion of care, and the government drastically changed the way it reimburses providers, effectively a contraction of the program. I trace the impacts of these changes over the next decades through analysis of media coverage and secondary research on hospital budgets. Drawing on the concept of palliative space-time, I identify a contradictory logic of death at the center of this expansion and contraction of the health care system. This death logic works to destabilize an already uneven geography of health service. Yet, this crisis has the potential for more just geographies of health and care.
Original languageEnglish
Article number113377
Pages (from-to)113377
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Early online date19 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished - 19 Sept 2020


  • Death
  • Health finance
  • Health geography
  • Hospital closures
  • Medicare


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